SfN Council Directs Programming, Governance Changes to Address Pandemic
SfN Council typically holds its spring meeting at SfN’s headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Council held its first full meeting of 2020 via Zoom on April 23–24 and has since held virtual monthly meetings to monitor public health ordinances that may impact SfN and the scientific community at large and lead SfN through this unprecedented time.
On August 5, Council announced the cancellation of Neuroscience 2020, scheduled to take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center from October 24–28. After extensive analysis of the feasibility of holding the annual meeting and also prioritizing the health and safety of SfN members and their families and associates, Council determined there was no possibility of moving forward with the meeting. In March, when the D.C. Mayor shut down all but essential businesses in the city, including the Convention Center, which was turned into an overflow hospital, Council delayed deadlines for abstract submissions due to the uncertainty associated with the pandemic and the availability of the Convention Center. Currently, while the city is in phase 2 of the Mayor’s plan, in-person gatherings of over 50 people are not allowed, and the city remains under a public health emergency until at least October.
Until the city moves to phase 4, the Mayor’s guidelines will not allow for larger in-person gatherings such as Neuroscience 2020, and phase 4 will only occur if a vaccine or effective treatment for the virus has been developed and becomes widely available. Moreover, travel to Washington, D.C. remains difficult or impossible, as the Mayor’s office recently imposed a quarantine for anyone traveling to the District from 27 high-risk U.S. states, and numerous other travel restrictions have been put in place by universities, government agencies, employers, and the U.S. and other countries. Based on information from the Mayor’s office and other sources, as well as from the Convention Center, it became clear that the city would not move into phase 4 before the meeting in October, thus making it impossible to hold the annual meeting. SfN’s 50th annual meeting will be celebrated at Neuroscience 2021 in Chicago, IL from November 13–17. To celebrate the awards that would have been presented at Neuroscience 2020, a special awards week is planned from October 26–30, celebrating 26 award winners from across the field.
In order to ensure continuity of leadership and program planning and to maintain the scientific integrity of the Neuroscience 2021 program, and to guide SfN through this period of enormous financial uncertainty created by the pandemic and the cancellation of Neuroscience 2020, Council voted to extend the terms of SfN councilors and officers, along with the Program Committee and the Program Committee chairs until the next annual meeting. This leadership will work closely with the recently elected new officers and councilors, who will be invited to begin participating this summer. This collaboration will ensure an influx of new ideas and problem-solving. The normal rotation schedule and end of terms for members of Council and the Program Committee will resume at Neuroscience 2021.
Council continues to hear interest from the membership and broader community in opportunities for sharing research and connecting with fellow scientists. This culminated in the recent announcement that SfN will host SfN Global Connectome: A Virtual Event in January 2021, with abstract submission open November 2–13. The Program Committee is leading planning efforts and intends to feature a robust curriculum that fosters scientific exchange and supports career growth. This experience will feature cross-cutting digital neuroscience event allows for scientific exchange via digital abstracts, dynamic talks, interactive Q&A, a grad school fair, exhibitors, and storytelling sessions over three days.
For the 18th consecutive year, a cohort of NIH directors joined Council during their virtual August meeting to discuss opportunities to align efforts in support of the neuroscience community. Topics discussed included the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the funding landscape, how NIH and SfN can support trainees and the impact of the pandemic on research, and how SfN can support diversity initiatives led by NIH.
Council recently renewed its formal partnerships with both FENS and SfN’s Mexico City chapter. The agreement with FENS covers collaboration in developing a European based advocacy training program, advancing matters related to the appropriate use of animal models in research and supporting the ALBA Network that promotes equality and diversity in neuroscience. SfN’s partnership with the Mexico City chapter will support activities related to advocating for increasing governmental funding for neuroscience research, including engaging policymakers in Brain Awareness Week, public outreach campaigns and utilizing social media channels to build awareness.
Newly elected SfN officers and councilors were announced in August. The membership elected Oswald Steward as incoming president, Kenneth I. Maynard as incoming treasurer, and Patricia Janak as incoming secretary. The elected incoming councilors are Suzanne Haber and Juan Lerma.